Heart Mountain Workshops Feature Public Event on Montana Sedition Act Abuses

For the first time, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation will open to the public a session of its workshops for teachers from around the country for a presentation on the mistreatment of German American war resisters in Montana during World War I.

Dr. Keith Edgerton, a recently retired historian at Montana State University-Billings, will speak about how Montana targeted vulnerable German immigrants during World War I at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 20 in the Grizzly Room in the Park County Library in Cody.

“In the wake of the American entrance into World War I, Montana experienced a wave of hyper-patriotism unsurpassed by any other state,” Edgerton said. “The state government passed a Sedition Act (most of which the national government subsequently incorporated into its own sweeping Sedition Act in 1918) and local Montana ‘Councils of Defense’ targeted vulnerable, newly arrived German immigrants of questionable loyalty for especially harsh treatment; during the War, local and state courts convicted numerous immigrant farmers and labor organizers of sedition and incarcerated dozens in the state prison, tearing apart families and destroying lives.

“The episode reminds us that there has long been a deeply entrenched suspicion of ‘outsiders’ coming into the region, particularly foreign-speaking immigrants and that state-sanctioned mistreatment of minorities, particularly during times of national stress and crisis, unfortunately is more often the norm rather than the exception,” Edgerton said.

Edgerton’s presentation is part of the week-long workshop for educators at Heart Mountain called “Echoes of History: Mistreatment and Incarceration in the American West.” The workshops place the Japanese American incarceration at Heart Mountain during World War II in the context of other abuses of marginalized communities in the region, including Native Americans, Chinese immigrants and Germans in Montana.

Heart Mountain received a $190,000 grant from the Landmarks of American History and Culture program of the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct the workshops. It is the third consecutive Heart Mountain has conducted the workshops.

Photo: Herman Bausch was a German immigrant prosecuted under Montana’s sedition act.